May 29, 2009

Day 15 : Da Vinci dreams

The last day of my grand tour had come up fast, we were to fly out of Zurich the next day. Everyone agreed to spend the last day in Rome again. We decided we would simply walk the streets with no major plan or urgency.

We got down at Barbareni and walked down first towards Trevi. Strangely I got reminded of 'The room with the view' as we walked the lively streets. It was very similar to the evening we walked the Champs Elysees - sort of drinking the local atmosphere. Despite the millions of tourists that must be descending on Rome, it seemed to retain the image of a living, breathing city unlike Venice.

Since I read 'Pompeii' I have been so intrigued with the concept of the ancient aqueducts and more than the fountain itself the idea that it stood at the end of an aqueduct fascinated me. The fountain is obviously a big tourist spot and I spent walking up and down enjoying the sculptures and the facade for quite a while. Neptune was majestic from whichever angle. I dutifully threw a coin, hoping to come back to Rome, before we left.

From Trevi, which was a relatively modern structure by Roman standards, I decided to walk in the direction of the Pantheon but took many diversions and bye lanes. One of them was the Piazza Colonna - this is the second of the many obelisks I saw in Rome. The Doric column was not plain and the intricate relief was a delight to zoom in on. Marcus Aurelius was one of the few human figures I saw on top of an obelisk, perhaps the only one. The il tempo office was an equally majestic building.

The Palazzo Montecitorio looked more like a museum or a hotel than a chamber of deputies and I spent some time gazing at the obelisk there. This one did not have relief work in the same detail as the other one, but was more interesting because of its scientific relevance. It is ironic that the restored column is not casting shadows similar to what the ancient romans would have seen.

The many Egyptian columns littering Rome brought to attention, the reach of the ancient Empire. I got reminded of the star trek episode where Kirk bemoans 'Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves?'

We wandered the streets some more and after some time reached the Pantheon. I had read somewhere that the conversion of the Pantheon as a church was probably one of the reasons for its survival and I fervently thanked God for that. Agrippa or Hadrian, whoever built it the front columns and the pediments in itself sort of makes you stop. It was a warm sunny day and when I entered the Pantheon, light streaming from the oculus in the dome was disorienting. I stared at the oculus for quite some time and with the light dazing me I looked at the other sights in the interior in a haze. I had read the book Angels and Demons but had forgotten that Raphael's tomb was inside the Pantheon. Who could forget the beauty of his Sistine Madonna and the Madonna of the meadows. I stood for a few moments before the master's tomb.

Piazza della rotunda had its obelisk with a rather simple cross but was compensated by the fountain sculptures on the bottom. I spent some time sitting by the fountain. SR had his espresso shots and I followed now hooked on to the dark bitter liquid. We bought some souvenirs and relaxed on the side walk for some time watching the locals and the tourists.

Next stop was Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a particularly poignant stop - this is where, I had read, Galileo abjured his thesis. The obelisk was different, shorter than the rest for one, an elephant base for the other. Somehow I was not expecting an elephant and that too a rather cute one like that. "A strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge" - I'd agree with that. I was amused by a few school children trying to climb to the base.

Our wanderings brought us to the monument to Vittorio Emanuele - I thought the nickname typewriter suited it quite well. We ended up spending quite a bit of time there, watching a bride and groom who were for some reason waiting on the sidewalk along with some guests. The square was large and walking along it was fun. We did not choose to go inside but instead just stayed in various spots of the sidewalk.

On our way towards the Forum, I got sidetracked into a museum. The sign outside said it was an exhibition on Da Vinci only this one had reproductions of his models. A quick poll later, three of us went in and SR and the others went to wander some more about the streets. The exhibits and the in deph analysis of his works were such a rare treat and by the time I came out I was so mentally exhausted!

Of course, I still wanted to go back to the Forum. So off we went, getting lost amidst the ruins. I could hear drum beats and battle cries, almost see Caesar and Cicero and Attila the Hun.

We arrived in the railway station late night to catch the train back to Zurich. There was a moment of anxiety when I had to hand over my passport. The train was quite comfortable and much to my surprise along with our passports we got a shot of coffee and muffin next morning.

We flew out of Zurich later that day, my heart filled with history and the influence of the western civilization.

May 29, 2009